Looking at the Label: Palm Oil

Looking At The Label: Palm Oil

 The Intersection of Health and Sustainability

Palm Fruit

 You are casually strolling through the grocery store aisle and you flip a package to the list.  There it is, palm oil.  In your quest for healthy foods and traditional eating, can you partake with a clear conscience?   Chances are, you used something with palm oil in it today (it has approximately 30 names, you know). 

 This blog is at the intersection of nutrition and sustainability.

 Palm Oil and Health

I first refer to Sally Fallon Morell’s definitive work, “Nourishing Traditions” when I have a question as to the health of a particular food item.  She mentions palm oil (p.20) as a tropical oil that is high in lauric acid.  That is a good thing because it is a fatty acid, found in large quantities in mother’s milk and coconut oil, that has antifungal and antimicrobial properties.  In fact, Sally Fallon Morell suggests that traditional populations in tropical areas have been nourished and healthy because of things like these tropical oils.  She does also specify that red palm oil is strong and not as popular in America as it is in Africa; but that the odorless and tasteless clarified version can be used as shortening.

 Palm oil is a natural ingredient.  Your body can digest it.  Your skin can absorb it.  It is “all natural” and even “organic” sometimes.  According to an Australian website (so not sure if this holds true in the U.S.), it is in 50% of all storebought products including baked goods, confectionary foods, hygiene products, and cleaning supplies.  

 Palm Oil On The Label

How I feel label-reading

It appears that the usage of palm oil in the industrial food setting gave way to the hydrogentated crap  bad stuff we most often see on the label.  It does seem to me (anecdotally, mind you) that palm oil is making a comeback.  Maybe it is not just anecdote; the Rainforest Action Network claims that the importation of palm oil to the United States has increased 485% in the last decade (“The Case Against Palm Oil: A Factsheet”).

 Does the label say “vegetable oil”?  According to FoodNavigator.com , ½ of all of the world’s vegetable oil consists of palm oil.  Since it goes by 30+ names,  it is nearly as difficult to eliminate from your diet and skincare routine as corn. 

 The Auckland Zoo has a great “Buy Palm Oil Free Shopping Guide”, but it is Australian based and it took forever to download through my internet access.  Still, it is worth a read.  This is what I learned:

 Palm Oil can be listed on the ingredient label as:

Palm oil kernel
Anything containing the words “Palmitate” or “Palmate”
Elaeis guineensis (Scientific name for palm oil)
Hydrated Palm Glycerides
Hexadecanoic or Palmitic Acid


 Label ingredients likely to be palm oil:

Vegetable oil
Anything containing the words “stearate, stearyl”
Anything containing the words “cetyl, cetearyl”
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
Sodium Laureth Sulphate
Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate
Steareth -2 and Steareth -20
Emulsifier 422, 430-436, 465-467, 470-478, 481-483, 493-495, 570


Do those names look familiar to you?

 Is Palm Oil Ethical?

Only 4%  of the world’s palm oil is produced in a sustainable manner.  Some of that is even questionable.  The Auckland, New Zealand zoo says that there is no such thing as “sustainable” palm oil. 


Orangutans are devestated by Palm Oil

If it is not sustainable, then that means the ability to grow it is diminishing.  What are the practical realities? Loss of viable palm trees, loss of natural habitat, loss of animal life.  The leading cause of deforestation in Malaysia is the creation of palm oil plantations.  Over 50 orangutans die every week, and there are as few as 500 Sumatran tigers and 3000 Sumatran elephants left in the wild (“Palm Oil Action”).   There are also land grabs, human rights abuses , and even private militias.

 Palm Oil destroying Rainforest



“Yeah, but that is somewhere else.”  What is the landscape of your home, what animal songs greet you in the morning when you step outside, and how would your local economy, agriculture, and life be radically altered if it were all bull-dozed?  The temptation is to ignore this.  I think we know better.


In my research of palm oil, I found that propaganda was thick on every side.  I really want to give you a clear picture of this, but I am not sure that I can.  I know that this is a hot button in Australia and New Zealand; there is a silence in the U.S. media. 


Watch this:


 Healthy, yes.  Traditional, sure.  But sustainable?

 My Conclusion:

I know how allusive this particular item will be to remove from my home and so I doubt I will succeed completely.  Just the same, I am responsible for my knowledge and for my stewardship of the earth.  That means I am obligated to try. 


Let’s flourish (& help less fortunate parts of the world do the same),







The sources hyperlinked in the text are not listed below.


“Palm Oil Action .” PalmOilAction.org. Palm Oil Action Group, n. d. Web. 2 Aug. 2013. <http://www.palmoilaction.org.au/>.


“The Case Against Palm Oil: A Fact Sheet.” RAN.org. N.p.. Web. 2 Aug 2013. <http://ran.org/sites/default/files/po_factsheet.pdf>.



Palm Fruit: Swamibu via photopin cc

How I feel after label reading:  TheeErin via photopin cc

Orangutans: Russell Watkins via photopin cc

Rainforest Destruction: Rainforest Action Network via photopin cc











Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice. You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes. Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.



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Wax on Fruit: Why they do it, what it is, & how it could make you sick

Wax on Fruit

Why they do it, what it is, & how it could make you sick

 Wax on Fruit, by Pantry Paratus


When I was a kid,  a common party favor was those awful wax lips.  Do you remember them? Sometimes they were vampire teeth and sometimes hillbilly rotting teeth&‐so there was generally a bruhaha over who got the vixen’s ruby red lips. 


Wax Lips 

What, really were you supposed to do with those, anyway?  They weren’t candy, and yet you were supposed to put them in your mouth until they melted, and I imagine more than one mom had them ground into her carpet or shoved under a couch cushion.   I get a tummy ache just thinking about my past melted-wax-consumption.

 This blog is not about that.  It is more about the shuddering sensation I get when I think of that nasty wax coating on grocery store fruit.  In a country where everything (but GMO, that is) has a labeling requirement, why do we not know what they’re smearing on our lovely green apples?  

 Ignorance might be bliss, unless you are on a special diet or prefer to avoid eating fossil fuels.

Why do they use wax on fruit?

Apparently, the wax will seal in moisture.  Have you ever bitten into a grainy, dry apple?  Gak.  It also works as a preservative and increases the shelf life.  It’s true that your waxed fruit would alternatively keep in a root cellar very well wax-free, but the grocery store storage and display does not provide those conditions.  People are accustomed to the shiny red freshness in April, oblivious to the fact that apples do not grow in the spring. 

 Sometimes waxes and coatings are used to protect shine or another facet of appearance.  Some fruits are susceptible to permeable gases like CO², O², or something called ethylene (Thompson, p. 50), like apples and papayas.

 The “fruit coating” is sprayed onto the fruit (sometimes it is a dipping process) with the main intent to “suppress respiration” (the breathable skins release moisture), which keeps the fruit or vegetable tasting more freshly-picked.

 Are there health risks to the wax on fruit?

 Let’s ask this question: do you believe that the food industry takes loving concern to meticulously remove the pesticides from the food before it hits your store shelf?  After all, if the pesticides were only for the growth of the fruit or vegetable and are not needed in your local Piggily Wiggily, why not remove them?  Okay, so here’s the followup—if they did not remove the pesticides prior to serving them to you, do you think they removed them prior to waxing the fruit or vegetable?

 Here’s a not-so-fun fact for you: over 20 million children between 1-5 years old ingest at least 8 pesticides daily.  Another study found 16 different pesticides in 8 baby food products (Cook, p. 71).  So do you really think that your foods have been cleaned prior to the wax sealant?

Spraying Field

 I do have a serious concern with the fact that the substances are not identified for the consumer.  On the list below, you will see things as benign as wood rosin to things much scarier like unknown animal byproducts (sperm oil, shellac) or even yet—heavy coal tar.

 What is the wax on fruit?

 First, I am appalled that there is not an allergy warning applied to the fruit.  Many wax coatings may include animal or insect parts, corn, or wheat.   But I will try to cover those as I go.

 This is the hardest part of the blog for me; I pulled up the FDA food processing guidelines.  Not only is that a snoozy read, but it is just downright disgusting.  I will try to sum up: the allowed substances are a’plenty.  I’m not sure it would be readable to list them all, so if you want to read them all, I suggest going to the riveting FDA guidelines.  I will instead sum up by mentioning the ones I found surprising, confusing, or disgusting.  I should note that I found this list specifically regarding citrus fruit (in which you usually do not eat the peel, unless you grate some for occasional baking). I struggled to find a list for fruit you might eat peel-n-all.

 Sodium Lauryl Sulfate—isn’t this the stuff in your kid’s bubble bath? I mean, the bubble bath you used to buy, until you found out that it had sodium lauryl sulfate in it, anyway? Don’t worry—your kids are getting to ingest it on their fruits and veggies.  It is a “film former” so it would be used in conjunction with many of the other chemicals listed on that super-enjoyable FDA guideline.

 Wood Rosin—this is one that might appear on your organic fruits and vegetables, too.  Al  Natural.

A whole list of “co-polymer” substances, my personal fave being  vinyl chloride-vinylidene chloride copolymer.   That is for anyone who used to chew on the headrest of mom’s old station wagon.  Gotta love the vinyl taste, right?  Someone please tell me that the double-use of the word vinyl is accidental! Well, it isn’t.  The base chemical was originally called “Saran”, as in—yup—Saran wrap.  Same stuff.

  The next one is…well, I’m citing chapter & verse because you won’t believe it and I thought it was an illegal substance so I am confused.

Food and Drug Administration, HHS, § 172.215.  Ready?  Sperm Oil

 Sperm Oil

 It’s a waxy substance obtained from whales and your great grandpa might have trimmed his lanterns with it.  There is an international ban on whaling and so it is no longer legally sold from what I could find online.  It is possible, I suppose, that it is of some other unspecified origin and not from whales.   Otherwise, the FDA guideline and the International protection on whales seem irreconcilable.

 Coumarone-indene resin—not for the flesh of fruits that you actually consume, but for things like oranges, lemons, and the like.  What is this resin? To quote, “The food additive is manufactured by the polymerization of a crude, heavy coal-tar solvent” Keep that in mind if you like to grate your orange peel. 

 There are many, many more.  Please know that if you  have a food allergy to gluten or corn, the FDA warns that fruit with these waxes may not be safe for you.  Do not expect a label, though!

Wax on Fruit might have allergens


  What fruits and vegetables get waxed?

 Here is one list that I found, but I have added to it through other resources:

  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Lemons , limes, grapefruit, & other citrus
  • Bananas & plantains
  • Guava Fruit
  • Avacados (coated to protect shine)
  • Melons
  • Papaya
  • Mangoes

 Can I wash the wax coating off of my food?

 So, how have you always been told to wash your fruit?  We have done a number of different things over the years, specialty fruit washes, vinegar, soap, and even just plain water.   I’m going to surprise you—here is what the FDA says:

 Washing Fruits and Vegetables



One thing no one disagrees upon is that you should indeed wash them.  This day and age, when animal illnesses (like E. Coli) can be passed through plant products, I think we know that you cannot take risks when it comes to potential bacteria exposure. 

I read a few anecdotal blogs and forums where people claimed they could see the wax flake off with a simple water rinse.  Huh? Not mine, and probably not yours either.  It is stubborn stuff.  An acid like vinegar or lemon juice will help.  I would love to see a study to show what percentage of the wax remains, since I do not personally find vinegar to be as thorough as I would prefer.


How can I get produce without wax?

 Grow your own. 


That sounds snarky but I do not mean it to be.  There is no consistent alternative to waxes.  Know your farmer or be your farmer.  Organic fruits will not use petroleum based waxes, but may still use organic ones such as carnauba (which comes from a palm tree) or  shellac (coming from a beetle, you know).  Sorry vegetarians, even your organic fruits might be coated in beetle juice.   The obvious benefit to buying organic is that you are not slowly poisoning yourself with pesticides, but—shellac anyone?

 According to the FDA, fruits and vegetables in their natural state do not require labeling.  One must wonder how coal  tar, wheat or corn residues, plastics, or the application of insect juice could be considered “natural state”.  I suppose I will have to add this to my ever-growing list of questions about the modern food system.

 In the end, we need to ask our grocer what they know about the produce they sell.  Perhaps we need to call the produce company.  On a personal level, I researched this because we were seeing symptoms of a corn allergy when I knew there was nothing else in the diet that contained corn.  Was it the fruit?  Without labeling, I may never know.




Works Cited:

Many sources in which only a single piece of information was utilized (but did not inform the whole of this blog) are not mentioned below but are hyperlinked in the text.  Follow the hyperlinks to read those additional sources.

Cook, C. (2004). Diet for a dead planet. New York: The New Press.

FDA  .Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Labeling Proposed Rule.      Last updated 5/22/2013.  http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm111487.htm

Thompson, K. (2003). Fruit and vegetables: Harvesting, handling, and storage. Australia: Blackwell Publishing.




 Photo Credits:

Please feel free to share any photo produced by Pantry Paratus, but please keep proper attribution.  Other photos are listed below:

 Cartoon: Pantry Paratus

Wax Lips:  numberstumper via photopin cc

Sperm OIl,  by Kurzon via Creative Commons

 Spraying Field: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture via photopin cc



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice. You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes. Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

The Right Potato for the Job

Potato Categories & Characteristics



red potato sm logo

My first Rocky Mountain gardening success was the unpretentious potato.

I could not kill ’em.

I do not know why I had never grown a potato before, but I did not know just how delicious, how downright juicy a homegrown potato can be. 

My favorite food to preserve is also–you guessed it–the potato.  But I have written about that before.


How do you shop for potatoes?  Do you grab the ones on sale, the ones that look…perky? Color, preference, or intended use?  I think my previous potato purchasing power was wasted on the assumption that it simply did not matter–but oh, it does! 

Which potato you choose will affect the outcome of your potato recipe.  If planting potatoes in this year’s garden, knowing which ones make the best potato storage will help you choose the variety to grow in the first place. 

Basically, you need to know this: The starch content determines the right potato for the job.  A starchy potato falls apart.  That is perfect for mashed potatoes.  A starchy, fall-apart potato will also absorb butter and cream best.   If you use the right tool for the job–a potato ricer–you will get an even consistency and you will bring air into them as you mash them for the creamiest comfort food EVER.  Gnocchi, dumplings or any other potato-stuffed creation should be prepared with a high starch potato for the best results.  A good french fry needs a starchy potato for the same reasons.


On the other hand, a salad potato needs to hold together well.  A red potato, with a lower starch content, is a good choice.  Also, if you plan to dehydrate potatoes for potato storage I recommend a low- to medium- starch potato if you can help it.  Since you will have to peel and slice the potato after boiling, you want it to hold together well when cooked to the center. 



 Which Potato is Right for the Job?

Okay, so now you want to know exactly what the potatoes are on your shelf!  Watch this excellent (as always) video from America’s Test Kitchen–the kiddos will be filling water glasses for the experiment before the video is even over, and you will know what you have. 





Images are property of Pantry Paratus; feel free to share or pin them, but please link back.




Here is the skinny on fats

Here is the skinny on fats

What are fats and why do I care?


Fats, they have become bad words in modern society eating modern diets.  The trouble is that they have kept us alive and healthy for millennia.  Breast milk is the super food that it is because it contains both high cholesterol for brain development and 4% fat by weight to keep baby full longer between feedings (just ask any mother who has breast fed about that inherent benefit at 3 AM). 

 However, along about the 1950’s food production was already highly mechanized and becoming more processed when a researcher by the name of Ansel Keys developed the Lipid Hypothosis.  In case you are not conversant in dietary theory, here is a great graphic from New Trends Publishing that Sally Fallon Morell uses in her Oiling of America DVD to explain it:


Lipid Hypothesis

Original slide can be found at: http://newtrendspublishing.com/ppts/OilingofAmerica.ppt

 The problem with the Lipid Hypothesis is that it was constructed on flimsy–or to be charitable–incomplete science.  Nevertheless, it was a counterpart to some great marketing forces and the low-fat trend was born. The only thing worse than fats to a lipophobe (a term that I believe was coined by Michael Pollan) is saturated fats from animals.  So before the low-carb trend came along, we had low-fat (neither of these are healthy by the way) and somehow what supported vitality in people all the way down to the cellular level was discarded.  Keep an eye out for this when you watch tv or read magazines.  The temptation is to equivocate real bread with the shelf-stable imposter you see in the grocery store.  In the same way using broad strokes like that, you get that treatment in something like this (although I agree with the discussion on fats):


Here is a better question, what are fats?  From a food chemistry stand point, most of the fats we eat are called triacylglycerols (root word there being “acyl;” although triglycerides are the same thing, the former is the better descriptor) (Joachim & Schloss, p. 220).  Fats are substances that are not water soluble, but make food interesting and give it a pleasing texture to your mouth, are a concentrated energy source, are the building blocks for cell membranes, are the carriers for the überimportant Vitamins A, D, E & K, are needed for mineral absorption, for the conversion of carotene into Vitamin A and most notably fats are the mother of all hormones (Fallon & Enig, p. 4).  Take this other slide from Sally Fallon Morell’s DVD, The Oiling of America:


Cholesterol the Mother of all Hormones Original slide can be found at: http://newtrendspublishing.com/ppts/OilingofAmerica.ppt

It is my hope that I can establish the necessity of fats in a healthy diet and that a low-fat diet is not healthy not only because it does not contain fats, but because it also contains lots of chemicals that are very unhealthy—more on that for another blog. Put more succinctly by Sally Fallon Morell in her presentation, The Oiling of America, Blaming fats and high cholesterol is like blaming fires on firemen.  Every time we see a fire, we see a fireman so the premature unscientific conclusion is to blame firemen for fires (Morell, 2008)

If we delete if [fat] from our diets, we subject ourselves to nutritional deficiencies as we would lose our ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and valuable phytonuturients (lutein, lycopene, beta-caotene, and vitamins A, D, and E).  Fats are a integral part of cell membranes and the production of hormones, and they are essential for brain development and activity and the workings of the nervous system and liver.  The problem in industrialized culture is that we tend to take in too much of the wrong kinds of fat, which can have negative consequences on our health (Joachim & Schloss, p. 118). 

“I have heard that saturated fats are bad for you, what are unsaturated fats—are they better for you?”  The answer is, it depends . . . let us make sure we are talking about the same thing first.

Saturated fats can be short, medium or long chain fatty acid compounds.  Or put another way, all short and medium chain fatty acids will be saturated and some long chain fatty acids can be saturated—it is more like a continuum than anything else.  What makes it short or long chain is the number of carbon atoms in the molecule.  As an analogy, the difference between butane and diesel fuel (generally speaking) is the number of carbon atoms in the particular hydrocarbon molecule with methane having the fewest and tar having the most.  On that continuum in ascending number of carbon atoms in the chain are: gasoline, diesel fuel, gear oil, paraffin candle wax, etc. all with different numbers of carbon atoms in the chain affecting their molecular weight and physical properties as a compound. 

Engine Oil

The big difference between fats and oils are how we observe them at room temperature, and saturated fats are a solid at room temperature.  Another interesting fact about saturated fats is that they are very stable and perform the best in cooking as well—more on that in this blog.  Back to the comparison, your body can make saturated fats if need be as a function of the liver by digesting complex carbohydrates (hence the hydrocarbon analogy). 

Unsaturated fats are what we observe as a liquid at room temperature.  Not all unsaturated fats are equal and of these my personal favorite is olive oil!  The unsaturated fats do not stand up to heat as well as saturated fats, and they can go rancid quickly in warm humid environments because they are comparatively unstable.  By unstable I mean that they will look to fill up those blank hydrogen places in a process called known as oxidization.  The category “unsaturated fats” is actually subdivided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.   
Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated is the preferred group for us here at Pantry Paratus because they are the closest to what you can find in nature and (unsurprisingly) you body knows what to do with them.  Polyunsaturated fats have two subcategories as well, essential and conditionally essential (although not opposed).  Some of these oils your body cannot make are called “essential oils” and are found in nature in fish, fresh herbs and some kinds of seeds—but not all polyunsaturated oils are the same.  “The two must-haves for essential fatty acids are omega-6 linoleic [sic] acid and omega-3 alpha-linolenic–and there are several other conditionally essential fatty acids (Fallon & Enig, p. 306).

“I heard my doctor tell me to stay away from trans fats, what are they?”  These are the imposters . . .

When you need a pastry to have the flakiest crust nothing performs better than lard or tallow—these are made from rendered pig fat and cow or sheep fat, respectively.  These are the gold standard of fats since they do not oxidize–they are stable, keep for a really long time and are very pure.  However, keeping pigs can be a hassle, and would it not be just so much easier if we could just pump hydrocarbons out of the ground or genetically modify some oil seed plant instead?  Amazingly this is where a lot of trans fats come from and knowing this helps us have a more informed answer to the question, “What are fats?”  The answer will depend on the kind of fat you are talking about. 


What are fats


Where saturated fats are short chain fatty acid compounds, they exhibit the characteristic of having all of their carbon atoms filled with hydrogen atoms making them “flat and easy to stack” together which we observe as a solid at room temperature.  Monounsaturated fatty acid compounds lack two hydrogen atoms making them have a slight kink in the molecular shape so we observe them as a liquid at room temperature.  The danger with trans fats is that they (heavily) process the fat to accept a hydrogen atom where it was not meant to be (we rarely observe this in nature).  This gives the new hydrogenated oil a physical performance like lard and a high smoking point like lard but is essentially a huge health risk on the cellular level once it is in your body.  These hydrogenated oils are free radicals, and they will oxidize or steal electrons from your body’s tissue to “complete” themselves.  Compounded over time, this is a huge problem in your body because your cells depend on cholesterol to repair themselves.  When all your cells have to work with is imposter fats, the results can be devastating because they are accumulative over time. 

The “trans” in trans fats is from the molecule straightening back up from its normal “kinked” shape (or “cis” formation) as a polyunsaturated fat.  The process renders this polyunsaturated fat that was once a liquid as a solid at room temperature.  Since polyunsaturated oils will go rancid at high temperatures, they must be “deodorized” in a process using heat—seems like a catch 22 but it is the method that they use.  During this deodorizing step, one hydrogen atom is forced across (or trans) the molecule causing it to straighten out again making the molecular misfit transformation complete.

“What is the difference between hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated?” 

The best answer for this that I have read is in the amazingly funny and informative book Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger.  In there he goes to an industrial plant where from the looks of it they may have been making paint or perfume, but actually it was full-hydrogenated oil (or “full hydro”).  Like lard, it is a solid at room temp, and will not flow unless it is heated up.  So as it is dispensed into train cars for transport it is in a warm liquid state.  When the train car arrives at the food processing plant as an ingredient for the now defunct Twinkie® it has to sit there hooked up to a steam pump to heat up the steam jacketed rail car so that the hydrogenated oil can flow again.  This is probably why it was originally sold as a candle wax alternative



Cholesterol in your body is actually necessary and a good thing designed to be there.  When saturated or monounsaturated fats are incorporated into a healthy diet, the body is able to carry out cellular functions, keep nervous system activity running optimally, deal with stress as well as provide hormones and the reproductive system the high octane fuel that they need.  Trans fats are imposters because although Crisco looks like lard at room temperature, it is a marauder inside of your body in the form of being a free radical. 


Pro Deo et Patria


Photo credits:

  • Lipid Theory by Sally Fallon Morell, New Trends Publishing.  Can be found here
  • Cholesterol, the Mother of all Hormones by Sally Fallon Morell, New Trends Publishing.  Can be found here
  • Engine Oil: photo credit: brionv via photopin cc
  • Monounsaturated Fat: photo credit: USDAgov via photopin cc
  • What are Fats by Pantry Paratus compiled from images from the public domain, the WAPF and information from Nourishing Traditions (cited above)
  • Crisco: photo credit: tellumo via photopin cc


Works Cited:

Fallon, S., & Enig, M. (2005). Nourishing traditions. (Deluxe Edition ed., p. 4). Washington DC: NewTrends Publishing.

 Morell, S. (Presenter) (2008). The oiling of America [DVD].

Joachim, D., & Schloss, A. (2008). The science of good food. (p. 220). Toronto: Robert Rose.

Further reading:



 Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

Pantry Paratus Radio, Episode 025: Interview with Penny Kane from MySoulsRole.com

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Pantry Paratus Radio, Episode 025: Interview with Penny Kane from PennyKane.ca


Elimination diet, food sensitivities and chemical free living


Today we chat with Penny Kane from North of the border in Canada.  We originally met Penny when we both received the same response to separate blogs we posted about carrageenan—and we hit it off from there.  Actually, you may find that you have a lot in common with Penny as you hear her talk about a Mom’s role in eliminating the numerous sources for ingredients that aggravate food sensitivities in children.  Every Mom wants to do the best for her children, so pull up a chair as I get a great education on the common pitfalls for a kid’s diet in our industrial food chain.


My Souls Role



Right Click Here to Download This Episode



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We talk about:

-How Penny got started in nutritious eating and healthy living


-When your kids are allergic to everything


-My Soul’s Role (PennyKane.ca) is a one-stop-resource for Mom’s looking for the straight scoop on how to cope with kids who have food sensitivities


-Penny has a forum for Moms to come together


-What does Penny mean by “chemical free kitchen”


-Learning to ask “why” with food, nutrition and the links between poor food and poor health


-Nexus between chemicals in the food system and illness


-Common food sensitivities—everyone is different: Dairy, Sugar, Wheat and Corn


-Connection between pasteurized milk and chronic ear infections in some kids


-Parents have to do their own research to find the “triggers”


-Peanut allergies, they seem to be more common—why?


-Cotton is heavily sprayed with pesticides and peanuts are rotated into the same field as the cotton


-Good thing we do not eat cotton . . . or do we?  Check the source for cellulose gum on your ingredients label


Food Alliance Certification


-WWGE?  What Would Grandma Eat?


-“GMO is food designed in a lab.”


-There does not seem to be adequate proof that the GMO foods are safe for human consumptions and the studies performed on animals are certainly not comforting


-Mom’s have the veto power when it comes to accepting the food status quo—yes, we do!


-GMO labeling battle North of the border in Canada


-The organic labeling process is very expensive and time consuming for the farmer; however organic labeling is the only way to be sure that the produce you are picking up is non-GMO


-Stanford study (link below) saying that organic food is not necessarily more nutritious—but only one is clearly not GMO and does not have pesticide



-Money and how it effects scientific studies, lobbying efforts and ballet initiatives like Prop 37 in California


-Many of the small organic brands have been bought out and are now wholly owned subsidiaries of the big food processing corporations


-“natural” descriptors on food


-BPA’s in plastics and in the food supply.  BPA is a synthetic estrogen, and is often called a “gender bender”


-BPA’s are a known health concern even in utero


-Even if you have multiple food containers with “small amounts” each, they all add up to a known health concern


-Where to cut BPA out of the house: water bottles, plastic food containers, canned foods, etc.


-Identifying food sensitivities in children and how you break the news to your kids that you are trying an elimination diet.  The hardest sell may be with you as the parent; however, they look up to you and trust you for their life


Change Their Food, Change Their Mood


Food Semantics: The art of getting your kid to eat that


-Resisting the temptation to sneak healthy food in your kids food—and why


-Getting your kids to eat healthy food when you are not around start by getting them to eat good food in plain sight when you are around


-When you have all of these changes to make, where do you start?  “You pick one.” 


-Make sure that you become label literate


-All parents are trying to their best; some are just more informed than others


-Dietary changes need to be supported by your whole family.  Dietary changes for the children may have positive ripple effects for you as well or vice versa


-What is the worst thing that can happen?  You live with less chemicals?


-Making the announcement that you are trying an elimination diet . . . to your doctor and then bracing yourself for the potential pushback


-The food supply is so drastically different from anything we have seen in history ever before


-“At the end of the day, it is a tweak in diet.  It is not like you are administering a vaccine.” 


-Packing your kid’s lunch for school is a big topic for Penny because the children are outside of the home and outside of your care—Penny has a whole section of her website devoted to healthy kid’s lunches: check it out!


-wrap up with Penny Kane


 Penny Kane




MySoulsRole.com (now PennyKane.ca)

Food Alliance Certification for food

Penny’s blogpost: Why are there so many peanut allergies?

Stanford School of Medicine study on organic vegetables

BPA free initiatives from Ziploc®

Chaya’s blogpost: The art of getting your kid to eat that

Penny has a whole tab category on kid’s lunches: Check it out!

Penny’s blogpost: How I got my daughter to eat cauliflower

Wilson’s blogpost: Carrageenan, the Dark Side of Chocolate Milk





Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.








Find this blog on Allergy-Free Wednesday!

Baking Powder, the Expanded History Part 2

baking-powder, non-GMO and aluminum free

Baking Powder, Part 2

What is Baking Powder? How do we get it and what does it really do?



Click here to read Part 1

 Leaven comes from the Latin word Levare to raise (M-W, 2012) and all that makes great sense, but how did Eben Horsford help?  Horsford was a chemist and he knew that carbonates release carbon dioxide when they come in contact with an acid, any acid: sour milk, vinegar or even hydrochloric acid (which is not recommended).  Horsford was out to find a yeast replacement that was more stable acid that could be shipped with the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). 

 After years of experimenting with hundreds of acid sources in Cambridge and Germany, Horsford found that by saturating animal bones from nearby slaughterhouses in sulfuric acid, he could manufacture a crude form of monocalcium phosphate that could be dried into a powder and mixed with sodium bicarbonate to create a dry chemical leavening that fizzed when wet (Ettlinger, 2007). 

baking-powder, non-GMO and aluminum free
baking-powder, non-GMO and aluminum free

 “After 1854, his main preoccupation was to discover a substitute for yeast in baking bread. At the same time, Horsford entered into a business partnership with George Wilson, a former textile manufacturer, to establish the Rumford Chemical Works” (American Chemical Society, 2007).  Eventually, Monocalcium Phosphate was the acid of choice and is still used to this day, although manufactured differently—just check out the Frontier’s ingredient list on this baking powder.

 The story of the Rumford® is interesting:

 The 1885 discovery of a sodium acid phosphate that gave off gas in response to heat, not water, led to its inclusion in the mix for a “secondary action”—the action that gave us the term “double acting.”  Now, when Horsford mixed it with sodium bicarbonate, he had the first phosphate-based, stable, reliable, affordable baking powder, which he packaged as Rumford®, in honor of the great count, whose beribboned, ponytailed cameo still graces the label on cans today. . . . Rumford [sic] has the oldest consumer product label found in grocery stores, dating back to the 1860’s (Ettlinger, 2007). 

 Wow, that is quite a history for something you probably never gave much thought to as it was added to your buttermilk biscuits.


What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?  “Baking powder is baking soda with the acids already mixed in.  That’s why baking soda is generally used in recipes that include acidic ingredients, whereas baking powder is used in recipes that contain no acidic ingredients”  (Joachim & Schloss, 2008).  Baking soda is baking powder minus the acids—but it turns out that the acids make all of the difference.  Depending on the type of acid mixed in, the chemical leavener can be “tuned” to produce the second rising effect a certain temperature.  Likewise, recipes that call for baking soda are likely doing so to counteract an acidic ingredient in the mixture (see chart below).


Baking Powder or Baking Soda

How do we get this great stuff of baker’s convenience?  Rocks.  Yep, it is mined from the earth.  Starting off deep under Green River, Wyoming, Sodium Bicarbonate starts off as being extracted as a raw mineral called “trona” and it will produce sodium carbonate (later one more carbon atom is added to make bicarbonate).  As for the Monocalcium part one needs lime, a lot of it in the food grade form—it also is mined.  Lastly comes the Phosphate of Monocalcium Phosphate and it too is mined out West by mining companies such as Monsanto around Soda Springs, Idaho.  The refining process is something of a wonder, and although you can find low concentrations of Phosphoric acid in a Coca-Cola® or high concentrations in naval jelly (rust stripper), phosphorus acid in its pure form will catch on fire if it contacts with oxygen—extreme care must be taken to transport it.  Frontier’s Brand (which we sell in bulk) adds non-GMO cornstarch to prevent caking and you have something that we eat that (chemically) lies between glass and tracer bullets.


Glass and Bullets


Steve Ettlinger in his fascinating book, Twinkie, Deconstructed takes you to all the places where those items are mined from the earth and then onto the southside of Chicago to a company like Innophos where they are all reacted and assembled to produce baking powder.  What is interesting is that the applications for any one of those chemicals may be anything from Roundup®, to anti-acid tablets, to meth, to concrete, to paint or even paper—but the application that we are investigating is the stuff that makes a low-protein flour rise so well into birthday cake. 

 The next time you pull out that mason jar of baking powder from the cupboard,  think of the history behind such an unassuming ingredient.  While you are at it,  make a Baking Certificate from Clabber Girl® (parent company to Rumford®) for any little helper in the kitchen there to do any on-the-spot taste testing. 


Pro Deo et Patria


 [jigoshop_category slug=”baking-ingredients” per_page=”6″ columns=”3″ pagination=”yes”]

Works Cited:

  • “leaven.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com (17 Dec 2012).
  • Ettlinger, S. (2007). Twinkie, deconstructed, my journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined), and manipulated into what a. (First printing,March 2007 ed., Vol. 1, p. 137). London: Hudson st Pr.
  • American Chemical Society. (2007). Eben horsford. Retrieved from http://acswebcontent.acs.org/landmarks/bakingpowder/horsford.html
  • Ettlinger, S. (2007). Twinkie, deconstructed, my journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined), and manipulated into what a. (First printing,March 2007 ed., Vol. 1, p. 138-9). London: Hudson st Pr.
  • Joachim, D., & Schloss, A. (2008). The science of good food. (p. 122). Toronto: Robert Rose.

 Photo Credits:

  • Biscotti by Nathalie Dulex: http://www.rgbstock.com/photo/msDa65C/Biscotti
  • Rumford® Baking Powder from Clabber Girl®: http://www.clabbergirl.com/consumer/products/rumford/
  • Baking Soda Chart by Pantry Paratus
  • Glass blocks from John De Boer: http://www.rgbstock.com/photo/mfebimS/Glass+blocks
  • Bullets from Kriss Szkurlatowski: http://www.rgbstock.com/photo/mhXWLlO/Incendiary+bullets+for+rifle+1

 Additional Resources:

  • MSDS sheet for naval jelly: http://www.henkelcamsds.com/pdf/553472_235119_Loctite_Naval_Jelly_Rust_Dissolver.pdf
  • FMC’s baking soda info: http://www.fmcchemicals.com/Products/SodiumBicarbonate.aspx
  • Monsanto’s Phosphorus info: http://www.monsanto.com/soda-springs/Pages/more-about-phosphorus.aspx
  • Innophos info: http://www.innophos.com/


Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.


Dehydrator Recipe: Coconut Sesame Cookies

Coconut Sesame Cookies

A Dehydrator Recipe


Coconut Sesame Cookie


I have always been a huge fan of Indian cookies and desserts; they use such savory ingredients in such sweet ways, such as pistachios, garbanzo flours, even cardamom and yogurt find their way into the dessert menu.  I developed this recipe from the flavors found in an Indian cookie combined with the modern convenience of the Excalibur Dehydrator.  I am sorry I do not know the name, but if this recipe sounds familiar or if you try these at home and they take you to another place–please let me know the Indian name in the comments below!


Coconut Sesame Cookies on Paraflexx Sheets


Watch the video for the quick how-to on this cookie.  It’s so incredibly simple! 

The recipe is below the video.





Coconut Sesame Cookies

2 Cups Sesame Seeds

1 Cup Shredded Coconut

3/4 cup Sucanat (or brown sugar *)

1/2 cup water


1)  Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet.

2) While seeds are toasting, put sucanat and water in a saucepan and melt, with frequent stirring, over medium heat.

3) Once the sucanat has melted, add the shredded coconut and toasted sesame seeds.

4) Roll into balls on paraflexx sheets** and dehyrdate at 115° until dried into a glazed cookie.


*  Drying times vary.  I have made this several times, but the consistency of the melted sucanat will greatly influence drying time.  I find that brown sugar took much longer to dry–and it is not nearly as good for you! The flavor is the same, either way.

** This recipe in these quantities consistently takes 3 paraflexx sheets.  These sheets minimize the stickiness in your dehydrator and keep the cookies together as the glaze hardens.




Looking for these tools?

Paraflexx Sheets for Excalibur Excalibur Dehydrators


SucanatSesame Seeds



Baking a Doorstop: How to know if the yeast works

Yeast in Bread



Yeast in Bread—Baking a Doorstop


The Role of Yeast in Bread Making


Yeast is a living organism.  Most of the items we put in our refrigerator or freezer are already dead and we are just trying to slow down the decaying process.  Yeast is alive (or at least it should be), and so we are going to look at the important the role of yeast in bread.   


If you have ever produced a hard brick bearing the name “homemade bread” you know the heartache of wasted time, energy, and ingredients.  There could be other reasons for bread that could break glass but the most common is impotent yeast.  To have favorable results for bread baking, the yeast used in bread must be viable—so how can you tell if the yeast is good?   


Three Steps to Proofing Your Yeast


SAF Yeast


1. Proper Storage


Your first step is to check the expiration date.  If this is not easily visible, find the date of manufacture.  Unopened packages of yeast are good for two full years from the date of manufacture.  Store the unopened package in a cool, dark, and dry place.  The best way to purchase your yeast is in a vacuum-sealed bag, the kind that looks similar to a brick of coffee.  This is because air, sunlight, and moisture are the mortal enemies of yeast. So once you’ve opened your brick of yeast, you will need to place the remaining yeast in an airtight, resealable container.  Then freeze or refrigerate. You will get a few months more out of it if you choose to freeze it.  You can then remove it and use it immediately from your freezer, although I recommend allowing it to warm to room temperature first.  Remember, yeast will not be active without first being warm. 


2. Yeast Must Be Warm


Next, I urge you to “proof” your yeast, though many modern bloggers and recipes will say that it’s an unnecessary or outdated step.  Proofing is too easy to justify skipping this step, and it is not worth the 10 minutes it saved if something happens to be wrong with your yeast—thus yielding a brick.  If you are a sale shopper or buy yeast from the grocery store shelf, you could be taking a chance.  People do not bake like they used to and the yeast on that shelf has been there longer than you might imagine.  Expiration dates are not the whole story, and the function of the yeast in bread will be diminished if the yeast is not viable. 


Here is my time tested, fail safe method for testing yeast: pour the warm water that is called for in your recipe into your baking bowl.  Make sure that your water is very warm, but not too hot.  I test mine on my wrist (like a baby’s bottle) but if you are not sure what temperature to go for, pull out the thermometer the first few times.  It ought to be between 110-115˚F.  If the water is too hot it will kill off the yeast and if it is too cold the yeast will not activate.


3. Feeding Your Yeast


Lastly, pour in the amount of yeast called for in your recipe.  Yeast feeds on sugars, so feed your yeast to proof it.  I follow the yeast with my oil and honey.  I do the oil first because I won’t waste honey in my measuring cup—the oil will ensure all of the honey pours out nicely.  Let this sit for at least 10 minutes (although longer is fine).  You will see foam action and bubbling with active yeast.  If you do not see that bubbling action, stop now and try different yeast.  Don’t waste all of those ingredients on something that will only produce a doorstop. 


Otherwise, continue on with the other steps in your recipe as written.  These three steps will confirm the viability of your yeast.  The role of yeast in bread making is an important one, without it we will only yield door stops. 


Here is an alternative method: A friend tells me that even though she bakes with honey for her sweetener, she adds just a tablespoon of sugar to the water and yeast to help stimulate it but does not do it my way because the oil may inhibit the yeast.  My bread does get a good rise and I am happy with my method however, I experimented with it her way and did see a major difference during the proofing process!  The end result is largely similar, so overall I did not see that much of an impact.  You might want to try the experiment. 


If phytic acid is a concern for you, add a few cups of your flour (not so much to make dough yet) and let your mixture proof for awhile longer—this soaking period will reduce the phytic acid in your bread. 


There is so much to learn in successfully baking a loaf of bread, I hope that you have learned more about what the yeast in bread does for your end result.  Truth is that there are thousands of recipes for bread (I have my own favorite), but learning why yeast in bread is so important makes the beginner’s path to nice bread shorter.  Leave a comment, tell us about your bread baking learning curve!




If you are new to bread baking altogether, you can get an exclusive offer to receive a free how-to video from us on bread baking by signing up for our email list (you will find that at the bottom of our homepage).  Rest assured, we do not load up your inbox with spam. 



Demystifying Processed Food

“The last three decades have seen tremendous growth in sales of processed food—sales now total $3.2 trillion, or about three-fourths of the total world food sales” (Regmi & Gehlhar, 2005).

Assuming that anyone reading this blog has heard the admonition to eat healthier at least once in their lifetime, it can probably be assumed as well that you should cut out “processed foods.”  How can you tell if something is a processed food or not?  Being able to know that difference is significant when you consider that three of the four bites of food sold is “processed” according to the above USDA quote.

Furthermore, the studies are in to show that the industrialized societies who choose to industrialize their food supply as well, have industrial sized health problems to go along with the data trends.

[As] people in developing countries become better off, they acquire more stable resources and change the way the eat.  They inevitably replace the grains and beans in their diets with the foods obtained from animal sources.  They buy more meat, more sweet foods and more processed foods; they eat more meals prepared by others.  Soon they eat more food in general.  They start gaining weight, become overweight, and then develop heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases so common in industrialized societies.  Here we have the great irony of modern nutrition: at a time when hundreds of millions of people do not have enough to eat, hundreds of millions more are eating too much and are overweight or obese.  Today, except in the very poorest countries, more people are overweight than underweight.  (Nestle, 2005)




Some working definitions for processed foods cover anything done to the food that would change its state as found in nature.  Hmmmmm, so a trout that was swimming in the stream that is currently in my hand (i.e. no longer swimming) might be called “processed?”  Answer: no, not really.    “Most every food eaten by humans is processed, altered from its form found in nature. Processing includes chopping, slicing, salting, seasoning, mashing, grinding, shelling, separating, mixing, peeling, bleaching, drying, Pasteurizing, fermenting, filleting, gutting, butchering, baking, cooking… you get the idea.” (Colon, 2010).   Public service announcement: conspicuous by its absence from the above list—irradiation.

USDA Chart for SupermarketsThe best way that I have found to triangulate on what constitutes “processed food” is asking the question, “Where did you get it?”  If the answer is, “from the tree/plant/bush that produced it,” or “I hunted/raised-then-butchered it,” or “from a farm stand,” then chances are it is not processed, and you can pronounce everything on the ingredients label.  If you answered, “from the grocery store” then the answer becomes more nuanced.


The last decade has witnessed an unprecedented growth in supermarkets among developing countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America where rising income levels have increased consumer demand for many higher valued processed food products. The trend has led to increasing centralization of distribution networks and also closer geographical integration (Regmi & Gehlhar, 2005).


We follow Summer Tomato on twitter, and I think that she has the right take on proper sustenance.  Furthermore, I like on her posts because she is an actual food scientist.  Whether it is the low-carb diet plans, Paleo diet plans or real food practices will all generally advise you to shop for your food  on the perimeter of the grocery store, because it is different than the items that you find on the inside.  If it comes in a box, can or bag it is going to be processed unless we are talking about something like brown rice (which may still be subject to irradiation).  The fresh produce section would be “unprocessed” foods, but may still contain waxes or “bud nip” (Chlorpropham).




Fresh cuts of meat, also unprocessed, have a high chance of being CAFO products or fortified with pink slime.  Dairy in the form of milk is most-definitely processed assuming that it is pasteurized, ditto for cheese.  The exception to the perimeter rule would be the bakery section—not all bread is baked equal.  We will cover this in part two in the next blog.




It becomes hard to eat healthy and to un-tether from processed foods.  Luckily, the USDA came up with a further distinction to bring clarity here for us; the term is called, “land-based.”  If that is new to you, this link may (or may not) be helpful.


Living things depend on formerly living things to survive, just as forests are built on decaying forests.  Food is raw energy that every living thing needs to ingest and metabolize in order to live.  As it turns out the best way to train your consumer eye to spot processed foods is to study the genuine article.  The man who is arguably the most famous for attempting to classify the reasons why some people are healthy and some are not based on demographics and geography (branch of medicine called epidemiology) was a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio named Dr. Weston A. Price.  Dr. Price took sabbatical to travel to the remote corners of the world looking for correlating factors (some say that epidemiology cannot prove causation) for healthy people.  All results pointed back to the fuel that the people took into their bodies via their “traditional diets.”  Here are eleven succinct correlations between healthy people (and teeth—he was a dentist after all) and the unprocessed foods that they ate:


Characteristics of Traditional Diets

1. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins; or toxic additives and colorings.

2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed­–muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred.

3. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K2–Price’s “Activator X”) as the average American diet.

4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw.

5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments.

6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid.

7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.

9. All traditional diets contain some salt.

10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.

11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

(Cowan, 2000)



It seems that some of the points above defy outmoded diet trends: low fat diets, eggs/red meat/salt will kill you, etc.  Moreover, bacteria (point #5 above) is necessary to healthy bodies.  It is a shame that you lose that to irradiation.


S. Truett Cathy Quote




Pro Deo & Patria


Photo Credits:

Meat by n7gRnws

Chocolate Éclairs by mVLBLTc

Trout by mjYxRA6

USDA Supermarket Chart broken down by country taken from http://www.ers.usda.gov

Chlorpropham from EPA

Bread by mgid8Bm

Sushi by mhgn9jS



Regmi, A., & Gehlhar, M. (2005, February). Processed food trade pressured by evolving global supply chains. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/February05/Features

Essay by Nestle, M. Titled: Dinner for Six Billion, which appears as the forward to the book on page 8 of: Menzel, P., & D’Aluisio, F. (2005). Hungry planet, what the world eats. (p. 8). Napa: Material World.

Colon, T. (2010). Unnatural empty junk food words. Retrieved from http://www.terrycolon.com/1features/food.html

Cowan, T. (2000, January 01). The weston a price foundation. Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/basics/principles-of-healthy-diets

Irradiation, Part II: Trying to ask the Right Questions

We need to dive a bit further into the role irradiation plays when getting food transported and to the table.  Let’s talk about why it is so common and whether it is fulfilling its promises to keep people safe.

If your child knowingly drank after a sick friend, and then said “hey, that is what antibiotics are for!” what would be your first reaction?



Let us look at it this way: you are in the passenger seat and the driver is texting, talking or otherwise preoccupied with anything but the road. The driver looks up at you and says, “hey, that’s what seatbelts and guard rails are for…” it is time to panic.


Empty Road

I just spent some time on the “Center for Disease Control & Prevention” (CDC) government website and I am pretty sure that I just read the above scenario (stated differently) on there.  Except in this case, it is referring to raw meat and other foods.  You see, who needs to worry about the quality of the meat, the condition of the CAFO’s or chicken houses, quality of the feed, or the care of the animal when you can just blast away all of the ickies with a mega dose ofir radiation?

Please read the statement for yourself:

Treating raw meat and poultry with irradiation at the slaughter plant could eliminate bacteria commonly found raw meat and raw poultry, such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These organisms currently cause millions of infections and thousands of hospitalizations in the United States every year. Raw meat irradiation could also eliminate Toxoplasma organisms, which can be responsible for severe eye and congenital infections. Irradiating prepared ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, could eliminate the risk of Listeria from such foods. Irradiation could also eliminate bacteria like Shigella and Salmonella from fresh produce. The potential benefit is also great for those dry foods that might be stored for long times and transported over great distances, such as spices and grains. Animal feeds are often contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. Irradiation of animal feeds could prevent the spread of Salmonella and other pathogens to livestock through feeds. (CDC, 2005)

The above highlights are mine, and here is my reaction in the greater context of the situation:

1) Excuse me, but those are living animals!  Forget what you can nuke their carcass with after the fact, they are alive.  I agree that their purpose is to produce food.  However, they need not be disregarded as dumb machines.  Treating animals poorly is a precursor to seeing everything and everyone as utilitarian objects.  Try starting with these questions:  “What is the purpose of a cow/pig/chicken?”  “What does the cow/pig/chicken need?”  Instead of questions like this: “What can I get away with legally?”  It may be legal, but it is immoral.


2)Joel Salatin is known for saying, “We are excellent at hitting the bull’s-eye on the wrong target.”  Have you seen the average slaughter plant?  Of course there is illness-inducing bacteria on the meat!  It does not need to be that way, though.  But is anyone asking how we can bring safe and ethical food production back to the local level?

3)  If the just-heat-ready-to-eat-meat has Listeria, it is not exactly ready to eat, is it?  When did grocery store shelves get so dangerous?

4) Transporting food over greater distances—sure, we can see some merit in that.  Let us face it, I just cannot grow bananas in Northern Montana.  But zapping food to make it last longer?  If your food is no longer perishable, it is not food.  If the bacteria that causes composting does not want touch something, then chances are I do not either.  Put a pre-packaged yellowish tubular crème filled dessert cake on the counter and see when it begins to perish.


Cow on Pasture

5) Animal feeds are often contaminated—really?  And if we know this, why are we feeding it to them?  Is the animal eating appropriate feed for that kind of animal?  Most people might not know this—but cows were never supposed to have full-corn diets.  They are supposed to eat grass in the field still growing or even properly hayed.  Salmonella on prairie clover is quite unlikely.

They must have known I was reading this.  The CDC continues:

Irradiation is not a short cut that means food hygiene efforts can be relaxed. Many steps need to be taken from farm to table to make sure that our food supply is clean and safe. Irradiation is a major step forward, but it does not replace other important efforts, including efforts to improve sanitation on the farm and in the food processing plant. For irradiation to be effective, the food that is to be irradiated already needs to be clean. The more initial contamination there is, the higher dose of irradiation it would take to eliminate possible pathogens, and the greater the change in the taste and quality of the food. The protection of irradiation will be overcome if the contamination levels are too high.  (CDC, 2005)

Yes, I am a critic.  Would I rather have the (current) alternative to irradiated food? Of course not!  If you are only offering one alternative, that being to get sick or not, to poison my family or not…then yes I suppose I will take the zapped meat.  But why accept just this one alternative?  Perhaps it is time to loosen city ordinances to encourage “kitchen poultry” and “victory gardens” once again!  Get to know your local farmer.

The CDC seems quite proud of sterile food production.  No bacteria?  That is like saying, “The good news is that we solved the termite problem.  Bad news, we had to burn down the house to do it.”  All bacteria is killed off in the food.  Has anyone asked if this is healthy?  Do you realize you have 3 trillion living beings within your own body?  Not all bacteria is Salmonella, Listeria or E. Coli O157:H7.  Bacteria are necessary for life and for your immune system.

car crash


We can keep building bigger, faster, higher capacity ambulances or we can ask the right questions to avoid generating more crash victims in the first place.  More ϋbersterile food, or better food production methods?

I want to leave you with this thought—what are our alternatives?  Be sure of this, we can actively speak a message with our purchasing power, with our voices, and with our backyard gardens.  Let us get back to the basics of producing and processing our own foods as much as it is possible, and buying locally wherever possible.  Let us aim for transparency when it comes to food production and smarter consumers to drive market forces.


Berger, M. E. (2003). Oak ridge institute for science and education. Retrieved from http://orise.orau.gov/reacts/guide/define.htm


Centers for disease control and prevention. (2005, October 11). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/foodirradiation.htm#whichprevent


Centers for disease control and prevention. (2005, October 11). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/foodirradiation.htm#replaceprevention


Organic Consumers Association. (2008, 08 25). History, background and status of labeling of irradiated foods. Retrieved from http://www.organicconsumers.org/Irrad/LabelingStatus.cfm


Organic Consumers Association. Induced radioactivity from electron-beam irradiation.  Retrieved from http://www.organicconsumers.org/Irrad/InducedRadioactivity.cfm


Potter, J. (2010). Cooking for geeks: Real science, great hacks, and good food. O’Reilly Media, Inc.


Weston A. Price Foundation. (2003, December 8). Irradiated meat: A sneak attack on school lunches.  Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-foods/irradiated-meat-school-lunches



Photo Credits:

Cocktail Franfurters by mOGTT4w

Antibiotics by nnLUem2

Empty Road by moNVEUQ

Sheep by mk4qyEe

Cow by mmqIkCS

Wrecked Car by mg21u9m

FOTPOTUS — Foods of the Presidents of the United States



Pizza in the oval office?  Sure, it has been done.  But if your tastes are more regional specific, more simplistic or even pushing the envelope for gourmet—the people want to know what are the foods of the Presidents of the United States (FOTPOTUS).


It turns out that of the 43 men who have served in the nation’s highest office, their tastes are as diverse as their politics.  President George H. W. Bush swore off broccoli (which is one of my favorite vegetables) claiming it as a perk of the job.  President Ronald Reagan loved Jelly Belly® jelly beans (fun fact: a special jar was designed for Air Force One so that the candy would not spill during turbulence), more specifically the black licorice flavor—so much so that he sent some on the Space Shuttle for the astronauts to enjoy in orbit.  Truth be told, that gesture would have been wasted on me (I always pick out the black licorice jelly beans)—then again NASA never responded to my application to become an astronaut either.  It turns out the President Barack Obama and I both enjoy chili, and President Bill Clinton and I would both enjoy a good cheeseburger.


Jelly Beans


History has proven that the First Ladies also have quite an influence on the food served for the first family.  First Lady Nancy Reagan was very health conscious.  In spite of the Gipper’s sweet tooth and love for Monkey Bread, she opted for simple breakfast courses.


Both President George Washington and President Thomas Jefferson were avid farmers at Mount Veron and Monticello respectively.  Although First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is credited for the first (victory) garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, the Clintons did have an inconspicuous garden on the roof of the Whitehouse, but the most famous garden at the White House goes to First Lady Michelle Obama.  Composting, gardening, food production—I really hope that idea catches on!


The First Lady's Garden


Enough of the history lesson, here are some recipes that have been the favorites in the White House:

Barack Obama’s Chili  (A nice warm treat for a cold winter day)

George W. Bush’s Huevos Rancheros  (On my list to try soon)

Bill Clinton’s Burgers  (Mmmmmmm)

Ronald Reagan’s Monkey Bread  (It is bread—we love bread here at Pantry Paratus!  I will be trying this one soon)

Jimmy Carter’s Grits  (I grew up in New England and never heard of grits until I went to school in the South, but these would warm the heart of any Yankee)

John F. Kennedy’s Chowder  (Classically lampooned as “chowdah” I have to tip my hat to JFK on this one for loving one of my favorite soups)

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Dogs  (FDR even served them to the Queen of England!  Must have been some good hot dogs)

Theodore Roosevelt’s Oysters (Since Teddy liked to hunt up here in Montana, I was thinking that he would be associated with a good elk recipe)

Ulysses S. Grant’s Turkeys  (never moving past “good ol’ Army chow” President Grant appointed an Army cook as White House chef)

Dwight Eisenhower’s Vegetable Soup  (evidently, it took days [plural] to make)


A really cool resource that I found on this topic: http://www.foodtimeline.org/presidents.html



I doubt that I will ever be able to meet a President of the United States (POTUS) in my lifetime, it is good to know what kind of food fuels the top office.



Pro Deo et Patria



Photo Credits:

White House Kitchen by Macon Phillips at whitehouse.gov
Pizza by mgyph6A

Jelly Beans by Bill Longshaw

First Lady’s garden by Jesse Lee at whitehouse.gov

Altitude Baking & Bread Recipe

I thought I’d show off; I’d learned how to bake at sea level, but I was staying with friends in Colorado, at roughly 7,000 ft.  Disaster.  I had to learn quickly about altitude baking.  After I’d moved to Montana things evened out for me at just less than 3,000 ft.  I did not find much difference between sea level and Montana as far as the outcome of baking, even though a few minor adjustments were still necessary along the way.

Chaya holding high altitude loaf

          That’s Pike’s Peak in the background.

We are visiting our friends now, and I baked two loaves of rather concave bread yesterday.  I have to laugh at myself, at how much I’d forgotten—the formulas for re-writing the recipe, the texture of the dough while kneading.  Every two minutes I was showing the dough to my friend: “Am I done kneading yet?” I would ask.  So much of baking for me is in the hands.

If you find yourself above 3,000 ft altitude, my bread recipe might not work entirely well for you.  You may have to try a few substitutions until you create your own perfect recipe.  For a more complete understanding of high altitude baking, let me suggest this high altitude baking site to answer your bread baking questions.

The science of altitude changes things.  The boiling point is lower (it drops about a point for every additional 500 ft incline).  The air is drier and moisture evaporates much more quickly.  It’s extremely difficult to have a muffin top or a dome on a loaf of bread.  Although baking is as much art as science, ignoring these changes will not work to your favor.  One of the more notable differences is the need for extra moisture.  This makes the dough stickier and wetter.

wet dough

  My recommendation is to start with a high altitude recipe instead of attempting to modify a sea level recipe, if you are higher than 3,000 ft.  Here are a few tips for you if you are higher than 3,000 ft and really want to try modifying your own recipe:

            *Decrease rise time to once, and only approximately 30 minutes!
           *Decrease fats, increase moisture--since the moisture decreases faster, the remaining imbalanced ratio
                 of fat  will  weaken the bread.
           *Increase the baking temperature by 10-15 degrees to keep the leavening gases from collapsing your 
                 beautiful loaf of bread.
           *Extra Moisture!

My friend graciously gave me her recipe, which she adapted over time  from a local breadbaker.

Her one comment was, “I wish my bread held together better”.  A typical troubleshooting tip I give is to add an extra egg.  I did that yesterday and the bread was much more “cakey” than I had anticipated, but it does make great toast.  Thought I’d pass that along to you—I think next time I would adjust the cooking temperature.  If anyone plays with this recipe, please comment and let me know what you have tried!

High Altitude Bread

Preheat oven to 375˚

Makes 2 loaves

2.5 cups warm water
1 ½ Tbsp yeast
¼ cup oil
¼ honey
1 egg
½ tsp lecithin
½ Tbsp lemon juice
½ Tbsp salt
5 cups hard wheat flour
  1. Proof your yeast in hot water and a tablespoon of sweetener for approximately 10 minutes.
  2. Combine other ingredients.
  3. This batter will feel much moister, will require more stirring initially to thicken the batter.
  4. Oil your hands before turning out onto the counter.  Avoid adding more flour, and knead bread for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Immediately put dough into bread pans and let rise.  I used the Excalibur dehydrator for the temperature-control factor.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.

bread rising in dehydrator

What I Put Into My Bread–The “Why”

bread with seeds

Bread Ingredients


The Role of Each Ingredient in the Final Product


I would like to explain what each of the ingredients does and how it interacts in my bread recipe.  Once you understand this, it is easy to modify a recipe and make it your own.  Perhaps you avoid eggs, or want a product with less gluten, etc.  If you understand the interplay of these ingredients, you can make substitutions, and create your own variant.

 I prefer to start with natural ingredients as much as possible.  I will mill my own flour before I get started to ensure that I have the highest nutrient density in my family’s bread.  Where possible, I highly recommend pastured eggs.  The Omega 3 is clear to see in the bright yellow yolks—bugs and sunshine make the best eggs!  Lastly, if you can use filtered water you will get better performance with your recipe ingredients (and you will not miss the Chlorine). 

pitcher of water

Water—Beyond joining the bread ingredients, water temperature is very important for activating yeast.  You want your water to be approximately 110-155˚F.  Again, filtered water is going to give the best results. 

 Altitude is another consideration on how much water you need to add to your recipe.  Higher altitudes are dryer climates (lower boiling point for water) and will require a higher ratio of water to the dry ingredients.  My recipe worked for me at both sea level in North Carolina and at 3,000 ft here in Montana . . . however I have to use a slightly higher water-to-flour ratio here at 3,000 ft.  When I tried to bake bread at 7,000 ft in Colorado Springs, my low altitude recipe failedClick here for a tested high altitude bread recipe.

  olive oil

Oil—Next to flour, the quality of the oil has the most direct effect on the quality your bread, both in flavor and in nutrition.  I almost exclusively use olive oil, because when you examine the finished product, you will know the recipe by ingredients used to make it.  It is this fat content that makes a tender and moist baked good.  The fat interacts with the strands of gluten to shorten (why we call them “shorteners”) the length of the gluten strands.  This allows the gases more freedom of movement so that your baked goods are more “airy”.  Egg yolks also help serve this purpose.


Honey—I always add the oil first so that the honey will slide out of the same measuring cup without mess or waste.  Traditional cookbook recipes just use plain white sugar, which is good for plain white bread.  But why, when you can take your bread from “boring” to “rich”?  Honey within itself is the original antibiotic—it is extremely healthy for your immune system, it is easily digestible.  Yes, it is one of the more expensive items on the ingredients list—but if you did a blind taste test between two loaves of bread, you would know which one had the honey.  I have baked with a variety of sweeteners over the years, to include agave nectar, stevia, and molasses.  I find that the honey has the least finicky response in the recipe and is the most versatile.

flax seeds

Flax Seed—this is a completely optional  in my list of recipe ingredients, but one I choose for the Omega 3 fatty acids.  I know that it is difficult (depending upon your geography) to fill your diet with excellent seafood.  If you do not grind the flax seed, you are basically only getting the fiber and the rest of the nutrition passes through undigested.  It is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. If you grind it in a coffee grinder (you can typically pick one up cheaply for about $10.00 at a box store or pharmacy store) that you have reserved only for your herbs and seeds, you will get many precious phytochemicals in your bread.  Flax, like other seed grains, has a lot of antioxidants, including lignans. 

We like to use bread for sandwiches, but I commonly hear the complaint that homemade bread can crumble too much for this use.  Here’s a great trick:  grind your flax seed and add a tablespoon of water to it and let it sit in a bowl for a minute before adding it to your dough.  It will work as a binder–just like egg–and will help hold your bread together even while giving you the great nutritional benefit of flax.

 soy lecithin


Lecithin—This one ingredient single-handedly transformed my early breads to something edible.  I did not know WHY back then.  Since then I have learned that it is considered a health supplement for its ability to break down fats, to improve memory, and for its promotion of healthy gall bladder functioning.  It lowers cholesterol and has been linked to improving women’s reproductive health.  In cooking, it is used as an emulsifier to prevent sticking (such as what you find in a cooking spray and chocolate). It provides a tenderness and (perhaps the most important thing of all), it extends the shelf life of the bread!  I get several more days at room temperature out of my bread with lecithin, than the bread I have made omitting this ingredient.  “Lecithin” is a generic term that can mean any emulsifier and it can be made from many sources.  Although I typically avoid soy due to the GMO factor these days, I have used soy lecithin in my bread in the past.  You can live without this ingredient, but its shelf life extension, texture improvement, and health benefits make this one you need to weigh personally. 

Now that I’ve mentioned all the benefits and how I never baked without it in the early years, I must fess up and tell you I do not use it now.  I can “read” my bread dough better with years of experience and don’t need the lecithin to help hold it together for me any more.  I do have some on my shelf but I rarely reach for it now.



Salt—I have forgotten it more than once.  Your bread is flavorless without it, entirely.  I have also overdosed on it, and that makes the bread inedible at best.   Salt also tempers the effect of the yeast; you usually realize you have forgotten the salt when your bread will not stop rising!  Stick with sea salt if you can; it greatly enhances the flavor and nutrition of your bread.  It makes it something richer.

 Palouse Flour


Flour—The single most important of all the ingredients, which is why I only use home-milled flours because of the marked health benefits.  Store bought flours, even the gourmet ones, have had to strip some of the nutrients out in order to give it shelf life.  Flours in the frozen section maintain most of the nutrition but freezer life will take its toll on that as well.  Milling your own flour is easy, affordable, and the most nutrient dense way to bake bread.  You can substitute bean and other flours (chickpea, for example) for some of the wheat, but do not go over 25% (you will likely need to add gluten) of the entire flour content or it will not rise properly. 

 Not all wheat is the same.  “Hard” wheat has higher gluten and is best for yeast breads.  “Soft” has lower gluten and better for lighter baking products like cake that use other rising methods, such as egg yolk, baking powder, and baking soda which also appear in quick breads.

 Hard Red—this has the dark, wheaty flavor.  I started with Hard White and began adding this in slowly.  This can be an acquired taste, now I love it!  Hard Red wheat responds very well to yeast recipe breads. 

Hard White—Less wheaty flavor.  Very tasty, excellent to use in yeast products.

Soft White—This is the best for quick breads, cookies, baking items with lighter structures.  I sometimes mix some in with bread flours for yeast bread, but never more than 10-25% of the total flour. 

Durum—This is your pasta wheat!  Very tasty and you will see a difference, but in a pinch, use soft white instead. 

Spelt—This is delicious and versatile wheat substitute.  You can use it in both breads and quick breads.  Some people who have sensitivity to wheat breads do well with this flour.




Eggs—This is the binder in your bread.  I have tried to live without them and I have tasted several loaves from other bakers without it and I come to the same conclusion every time—use eggs (even better, get your own chickens)!  The bread crumbles more easily without it—so if you want sandwich bread you cannot skip this step.  You might want to play with how many you use.  Eggs also provide another source of healthy fat for your bread, which helps lighten the overall texture. 

 There are likely thousands or even tens or thousands of bread recipes across the world, but each one will differ based on the ingredients.  The food science is the same though, so choosing recipe ingredients that are fresh, quality and wholesome will yield a superior product.  If you come across a recipe that you want to modify, you can as long as you which bread ingredients do what and why.  If you come across any ingredients that I did not mention here, please leave a comment below and let me know what you like to see in your bread recipe.





Photo Credits:

Pitcher of water  http:/www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1857%22%3EImage:%20zirconicusso%20/%20FreeDigitalPhotos.net%3C/a%3E%3C/p%3E

 Oil  http:/www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=681%22%3EImage:%20m_bartosch%20/%20FreeDigitalPhotos.net%3C/a%3E%3C/p%3E

Honey  http:/www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=851%22%3EImage:%20Danilo%20Rizzuti%20/%20FreeDigitalPhotos.net%3C/a%3E%3C/p%3E

Salt  http:/www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=345%22%3EImage:%20Carlos%20Porto%20/%20FreeDigitalPhotos.net%3C/a%3E%3C/p%3E

 Eggs  http:/www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1758%22%3EImage:%20Rawich%20/%20FreeDigitalPhotos.net%3C/a%3E%3C/p%3E





Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.